Heavy Heart; Listening Mind

“Jazz musicians know that life is a “life is a low-down dirty shame that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy or a dog.”

Or, as the bluesman Elmore James put it, “The sky is crying.”

And yet with the deep sea blue tragic sense of life that underlies the music, comes an overwhelming impulse to celebrate human experience, for jazz is music with a powerful sense of possibility and humor.

It is music of rebirth, revival, and renewal; jazz encourages the human will to keep on, to persist in spite of the pain traditionally sung about in blues lyrics.” 

Namja Al Zidjaly • Building Bridges: Integrating Language, Linguistics, Literature, and Translation in English Studies 

*It was kindly called to my attention that I misspoke at 2:11 in the video. I meant to say “generalized abstractions as opposed to groups made up of individuals” Forgive me for any confusion this may have caused.

My heart is heavy. It’s grown heavier by the day.

The death.
The inequity.
The injustice.

It’s harrowing and heartbreaking.

On top of the tragedies we’re seeing in the wider world… Someone very near and dear to me has become so miserable in their own body from their acute health challenges, they are now suicidal.

It’s a dark time.

Though it’s not my place, I would feel remiss if I didn’t say something about some of it.

I’m not sharing any of this as advice.

I have nothing to preach here.

I have no answers, no wisdom to provide, no solutions.

I’m not taking any stands here, or placing any blame, or striking a political or philosophical debate.

My colossal ignorance and gaps in my understanding on these issues put me in a curious position, eager to listen, but very reticent to share.

All I’ve got is my provisional perspective, communicated as concisely and clearly as I can give it, for whatever the hell it’s worth.

It’s about listening. With common human decency. 

I think that’s what it comes down to.

I think honest protests borne of justified anger for real inequities are sometimes necessary, and they can get messy.

I also think it’s important not to conflate the peaceful protesting with the violence and looting, because they clearly aren’t the same thing.

Though there may be some overlap, that overlap isn’t exactly obvious or starkly verifiable in some cases. And justifying the latter for the former––no matter who is instigating it––can be dangerous, and possibly delusional.

I also think that whatever is happening right now is part of a larger process.

And we don’t know how the story ends.

And the ongoing media attempts to polarize us and put us into “us vs. them” camps only makes things more confusing, fraught with conflict, and unproductive. 

In studying history even a little bit, it’s plain to see that it’s a horror show.

Though in many ways society is still riddled with struggles and injustice, in still other ways it’s arguably better than it’s ever been throughout history. And we have made progress.

Contrast where we are now with where we were when Rodney King was brutally beaten by a crew of police officers in the 90s, and you we see how some meaningful progress has been made (even if the progress isn’t sufficient and we still have a long way to go).

Progress takes time, and it can be bloody and brutal.

Even then… no progress is assured, much less guaranteed to be retained.

What seems to matter most is how we conduct ourselves in the face of it all.

I think all of this violence and polarization is hard to stomach, but it’s also part of what keeps society in check (whether we like it or realize it or not, or only come to realize it in hindsight). 

We tend to challenge and shake up institutions that might otherwise become too ossified and corrupt. 

And we seem to institute law and order so as to quell the chaos that might otherwise run so rampant that it destroys the foundation of what its instigators are presumably fighting for (liberty, equality, justice).

It’s a wincingly precarious balance that seems to be going on all the time; sometimes subtle, sometimes overt.

And with any luck, we can manage to participate in this balancing act with respect for one another.

We don’t have to like each other or agree about anything… but we can respect each other.

I think we lose that respect when we buy the narrative that something so complex can be boiled down to something so crudely reductive and binary.

…But my perspective about what’s going on isn’t important. Not least because of my privileged position.

And not just because my thoughts are all open to revision (I’m always in an ongoing curious quest to make sense of things and am intentionally very slow to draw conclusions, much less pronounce them and spray them online in all their half-baked glory for the whole world to see).

More important than my take… I think this gives all of us an opportunity to listen. To check in. To take stock of how little we understand, and how much we can learn.

And not in a self-shaming or deprecating way, or a way that further entrenches us in the great many pitfalls of identity politics that seem to undermine the very thing some aspire to attain.

For many white folks (god, it truly feels so strange to even talk about people as either white, black, or any other color… aren’t we all just people?)… We are reflexively conscious of our privilege, and thus, by default, we preemptively exclude ourselves from the conversation (with a heavy heart and guilty conscience for the sins of our ancestors).

But this isn’t productive in and of itself.

It’s only productive if it causes us to do something different.

Not just for the sake of those who aren’t as privileged and those who are oppressed, but for our own sake (which strikes me as a distinction that’s real, but slight. If we can take care of ourselves, we are better equipped to have the capacity to take care of each other).

We do this so that as individuals––rather than abstracted groups––we can better understand ourselves, the world, and how best to comport ourselves within it. 

With human decency and respect.

Personally, I’m reading The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell (it’s one book of many on my reading list). 

Thomas is a black American who grew up in Harlem. He’s also a distinguished conservative intellectual. I imagine there are many things we can agree and disagree about. 

The point isn’t to argue, though.

It’s to listen and seek to understand. Seek to discover a point of view that’s hidden from one’s view because one rarely takes the time to consider it, much less delve deep enough into it to try it on.

So far, I’m learning a lot.

This is a weak gesture, of course.

But it’s something. And sometimes weak gestures are better than nothing.

Wanting and being willing to listen and caring to understand is, in and of itself, something that can go a long way.

These things take time. And it’s better to start somewhere than to not start at all.

Here’s to saying less, tuning in, and listening more,

Joshua

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